Saturday, November 26, 2011


Alcohol is a marvelous tool for increasing happiness. You know this. But it has limitations. Like with Lysergic Acid Diethylamide, if you are downcast, it will only make everything worse.
Oh sure, booze and good company combine nicely to ramp up the good cheer, but once you leave the bar you realize that you are alone, alone, and you roam the streets of Nob Hill wailing that you have nobody, why must it be like this? This is not good, especially for sleeping children in upstairs apartments.
It gives them bad dreams.


She threw the coverlet off in the middle of the night. No, she did not wake up - what was happening in her head held too fast to her attention, and would not let her go. She was running through a dark forest pursued by crows, cawing fiercely as they gained on her. They were so large, and whenever she looked back, she could see their eyes glowing in the night. She ran. She ran harder than she ever remembered running before. Her sleeping body twitched while she tried escaping, and she stumbled over a fallen branch. As the crows swooped in for the kill, the nearest tree grew enormous, and revealed itself to be a giant beast. With a few strokes of its branches, now transformed into giant scaly arms, it dispersed the crows - their indignant screeches faded as they fled. Only now did she wake up, drenched in sweat.
The dream faded, and she wondered why this kept happening. Why did she always wake up in the middle of the night?

Later, in the kitchen, she tried to remember what had happened. But it did not come back to her, as if the black shadow that lived in her unconscious refused to reveal itself except when she was vulnerable. The milk started bubbling up and she poured it into a mug. Stirred with honey it soothed her, she felt her eyes grow tired again.
She returned to bed and slept soundly till dawn.

She had never really known her mother, who had passed away when she was still a small child. What she remembered were warm arms and sad sad eyes. Her mother had wasted away, and after she died the relatives seldom mentioned her. Such bad luck! Yes, at the end of March they would sweep her grave too, and put some flowers or fruit upon it, but other than that it was as if the woman had never existed.
Did I already mention bad luck? Very very bad luck! To die so young, and leave only a little girl behind. A burden to her father, whose chances of remarriage were lessened thereby.
She wondered what her mother had been like. Was she a happy woman? Had she smiled a lot? When her mother had still been well enough, she had told her daughter stories at bedtime of sunlight and cool brooks, fields and trees, small animals, birds......
Mom must have been very fortunate indeed, as the husband she had left a widower was a kind man, a gentle person. Her dad was never around in the daytime, but came home late from his job. He would kiss her forehead as she slept, his beard grazing her skin like silken feathers, and she would dream of heroes and fabulous adventures.
Or...... other things.

Both of them would get up early, and have breakfast together before he left.
She left her dreams in darkness, and did not speak of them in daylight.
Dreams ARE the night - when you're awake again, why bother?

As she grew up, she missed her mom. Her aunties did not have warm arms, and though their eyes were not sad, they seldom smiled. And they never called her by her mother's pet name: Little Pearl.
After school each day she went to the house of her youngest auntie, who would make sure she did her all of her homework, before dinner with the family. Later one of her cousins would walk her home, and check to make sure that she had locked the door after entering the deserted apartment.
If she didn't turn on all the lights, she saw birds and dragons in the corners, and could day-dream about faraway places.
Somewhere, she knew, her mother was still awake. Not in this world, but in a place where there were trees and running water, hills that were not covered with apartment buildings. The cable car that passed the house every twenty minutes or so would pull her out of her fantasy, and as the sound faded in the distance, she wondered if perhaps one of the trolleys might take a track sideways and enter another universe. If it did, there would be a woman at the end of that line, waiting near a brook, in sunlight among the trees.

Once a very different dream disquieted her, but it was one that she remembered well, and sometimes revisited in her waking moments because it was so vivid, so real.
It was night, and she was high above a forest, she could see the crowns of the trees far below. She did not remember how she got there, or why she was riding on a long twisting reptile, whose warm bony back she clenched with her thighs right below the shoulders, her hands firmly entwined in the silken mane that flowed backwards from the head. They whirled through wisps of cloud in pursuit of a white flaming fireball that hurtled through the sky. Whenever they got close, their target suddenly gained speed and left them far behind. It was frightening, it was exhilarating.
The creature spoke to her at times, but she did not understand what it said. It's voice was reassuring though, and calmed her, she did not fear the height. Long wiry whiskers grazed her cheeks, and scales chafed against her skin through the thin fabric of her clothes.

They never did catch up with the luminous orb, though they got close enough that the trail of heat did at times envelope them. Always it would vanish, now in feathers, now in mist.
It was so sad - their goal seemed so deeply desirable, it was so heartbreaking that it remained out of reach. They both wanted it so very much!
When she woke up it was full morning and the sun shone bright into her bedroom.

She did not mention what had happened in the night to her father, just like she never mentioned any of her other frustrating dreams. She did not want him to look more tired than he already did.

She read a lot in those years. Books were friends, and by reading, a person could escape into a different world. First it was fairy tales, later fantasy novels set in different eras, different countries, different realities. The descriptions of how other people overcame trouble, pursued their passions, achieved goals (or failed gloriously and dramatically) excited her young mind. Pictures painted by the authors coloured her days and gave form to ideas that she herself would otherwise not have thought. And there were real illustrations too: animals, heroines, wonderful animals. The spark that stories gave to her imagination made the frequent emptiness more than bearable. She'd lie in bed at night munching apples while reading, then later have some warm milk and brush her teeth.
Once her eyes closed, she dreamt. Usually happy dreams.

When she went away to college, her dad moved to another state. He had a job there, and whenever she came back during school breaks, he would fly in, and they would spend a few days together, staying at her youngest auntie's home. It was good to see him again. He seemed happier now, and she suspected that he had a girlfriend in that faraway place. She never asked about that, even when she wrote to him. She sent him a lot of letters in those years, he always answered. But sometimes it would be a few weeks before he responded - then he would write a long multi-page epistle that showed he had attentively read everything she wrote.

She didn't dream much when she was at college. But when she did, there would be forests, and rain. Sometimes dark shapes flitted around and between tall tree trunks, or shadows grew large and threatening. But not often, and she always woke up.
Once or twice she dreamt that she was on a cable car, heading towards a green grove and a sunlit place. But she never got there - those dreams always ended abruptly.

The year that she got her degree, her dad finally remarried. He still wrote to her, but not as much. And when she went into the master's program neither of them came back to the city - she didn't have time, and he had other things to do. It was during that period that she started waking up with sweat covering her thin body. And always, the details of what had happened were difficult to recall. Crows? Rooks? Ravens? Dark wet logs, and the smell of rotting vegetation.
Never the sound of a cable car, never sunlight.

Perhaps it was her own personal life, perhaps what she imagined her father's new life to be like. She herself briefly dated another student, but it went nowhere. He was not the kind of person that she could fully respect, although he seemed likable enough. They took the same courses, and had lived near each other in the city. But no. He wasn't what she thought he was, and once it was over she couldn't help wondering what people saw in each other, how they got together.
Relationships just seemed so fraught. Differences between dreams and reality, fantasy and the real world..... very frustrating!
What was it about the new woman that had attracted her father? And did his new wife resemble her mom? She didn't really want to know, she felt that what little she remembered of her mother would fade if she found out.
She graduated with honours, and some friends threw a party.
The photo taken of her at the restaurant shows a pretty woman with sad eyes.

The dreams got worse when she returned to the city. No, not often - she didn't have those dreams very often. But once every few weeks, she would wake up shivering in the darkness and know that something was missing. Warm milk and honey always worked, however. After that she would sleep till morning. Once or twice she put some brandy in the mug too. She would then see warm sunlight, and shadows, off in the distance. Even though she never reached that place she knew she had to get there. It always seemed as distant, no matter how long the journey. So far away, so utterly unreachable!
Eventually she stopped adding brandy, and while she didn't see the sunlight in her dreams again, she didn't wake up disappointed afterwards either.

During this period she started reading novels, voraciously adding book upon book to her shelves, until she had to buy another book case. Some romance fantasies, some history, and some silly adventure tales. It occupied her mind and gave her other things to think of. She discovered that she was no longer so fond of apples, but she still liked warm milk at bedtime. It did seem rather childish, though.
After several months the dreams grew less threatening. The forest was more velvety, and sometimes she heard the sound of a cable car bell. She lived further from the tracks now, a few streets over. Still in the old neighborhood, but on the other side of the hill, the side that gets the afternoon sun. On a good day you could hear the Mason-Hyde trolley AND the sea lions down at the wharf.
It was a good place to live, on a quiet shady street, with nice gardens behind the apartment buildings.

Her dad visited her after a year. He stayed with her youngest auntie, because her own apartment was so small. She would have gladly yielded her own bed and slept on the couch, but he insisted. It would not be right of him to impose so much upon her, and her place was too compact, too private. They spent a few days together and talked about old times, about her childhood, going to school, her college years. But they didn't talk about her mom - she didn't dare bring up something so permanently past, he didn't volunteer any information. Other things.
On his last day in the city, after eating together at a restaurant that served all of their favourite dishes, he reached into his satchel and pulled out a book. "This was your mother's, she kept a journal when she was sick. She knew she was dying, and wouldn't see you grow up....." He paused.
After a while he continued speaking, softer now. "She wanted you to know her. She loved you so much..... Please read it, and think of the woman she had been." She promised him she would.
When he dropped her off on her doorstep later, he kissed her on her forehead, and whispered "you're so like your mom, so very like mom. I loved her, you know".

She started reading her mother's journal that evening. Long after midnight, she put the book down and went to sleep. That night she dreamt of a cable car travelling through a warm summer forest, where the shadows arched up majestically under the long long tree trunks. Soft breezes, and cawing in the distance, and at the end of the track there was sunlight. When the vehicle stopped, she got off and walked through tall grass. It was warm, and she could hear birds in the nearby trees. And somewhere there was a brook.
A magpie hopped towards her with a luminous object in its beak. She had never seen a magpie before - they don't live in this city. But she had seen them in paintings. They're rather like crows, but smaller and more cheerful.
It had no fear, and looked alertly at her as she approached.
She recognized what it held: a pearl.


I wrote this post for Yuan Yuan in Rotterdam, a woman I have never met but know on Facebook. She is not happy at the moment. Things have changed, and she needs cheering up.
That's not something I am particularly good at. Still, perhaps this story will distract her.
Just stubbornly persevere, and everything will be better.
Stay confident about your decisions.
Be strong, live well.

NOTE: Readers may contact me directly:
All correspondence will be kept in confidence.

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